Where Are the Propellers?

Where Are the Propellers?

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  • Mar, 13 , 23

In 1958, the Myasishchev Design Bureau’s M-50 jet bomber prototype was one of the most powerful. . . or at least potentially one of the most powerful aircraft in the world. The plane was huge, about 190 feet long with a wingspan over 80 feet. It could carry either one 3,000 kg or one 5,000 kg bomb; these could be conventional bombs, but really the plane was intended to deliver nuclear weapons. The M-50 had no defensive armament, but if it could reach its anticipated cruise speed, which was well over the speed of sound (Mach 1.35) at its intended service ceiling of well over 40,000 feet, it wouldn’t need any.


In the summer of 1958 the two prototypes were almost ready for flight testing, and the premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchov, was invited to inspect the planes himself. Engineer Leonid L. Selyakov remembers:


In the final assembly shop, the pride and joy of our organization, sat a beauty of an aeroplane – the second prototype M-50. A perfect aeroplane. We were expecting the arrival of Nikita S. Khrushchov, our head of state. It was a hot August day in 1958. I met the visitors at the entrance of the administrative building The car pulls up; Khrushchov climbs out, along with his retinue – Leonid I. Brezhnev and Kirichenko. For some reason Kirichenko is wearing shiny new galoshes (remember, it is August and there are carpets everywhere [rolled out for the high-ranking guests]!). Apart from the top brass, all commanders of military arms and services were there, as were the heads of industrial ministries.

A large crowd gathers. I had naively hoped that on inspection of the M-50 aircraft the progress we had made would be properly appreciated and everything would be OK. But things worked out very differently. The leader of the nation had set his mind on reducing the activities on aircraft development. At the meeting Khrushchov suddenly recalled that aviation is "troublesome", fatal accidents occur and it is possible to do without aircraft. His pitch was that "aircraft are dangerous". I was extremely surprised that none of the "aviation people" spoke up against this apparently rigid mindset from Khrushchov. Vershinin, Dement’yev, Myasishchev – all were silent. I could not let this pass and, addressing Khrushchov, tried to prove (probably too fervently) that it was not true and explained why fatal accidents occur – among other things, with our design bureau’s aircraft. Judging by his facial expression, my arguments fell on deaf ears; apparently the issue was already decided. Beaming with pleasure, the opponents argued that instead of one M-50 aircraft it was possible to construct two submarines. That is, you get two at the price of one. And they would be armed with missiles (the first Soviet sea-launched ballistic missile, the R-11FM, was then completing its state acceptance trials – Auth.). The fact that the M-50 had evolved into the M-52 weapons system consisting of a missile strike aircraft and missiles (cruise missiles and [aero]ballistic missiles) and this system is much more effective than submarines was apparently overlooked. Nobody supported it. No decisions were taken at this meeting; just a lot of talk and they adjourned. However, one thing had become perfectly clear: aviation is a no-go!

The newly appointed M-50 project chief Yakov Borisovich Nodel’man and everyone else were in a somber mood. After the end of the meeting the visitors were supposed to stay for lunch, which had been organized and agreed with Dement’yev. Vladimir Mikhailovich [Myasishchev] invited Khrushchov to have lunch; Khrushchov was about to agree, but then someone from his retinue approached him and said something quietly in his ear; Khrushchov nodded, then told us that he would not be having lunch with us. Why?! Were they afraid that our food would be substandard?!

There was one more episode. During the inspection of the M-50 in the assembly shop one high-ranking aviation boss (whose name is not worth mentioning) said, addressing Myasishchev: "You say the aircraft is ready; OK, where are the propellers?!"


To find out what happened to the M-50, check out Myasishchev M-50 and M-52: The First Soviet Supersonic Strategic Bomber by Yefim Gordon and Dmitriy Komissarov. The book is available for preorder now!
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